Pietro of Abano/VI


So you too, said the little priest some time after to the melancholy Antonio, have given yourself up to this ill-starred school, to this pernicious man who will ensnare your soul to its destruction.

Why are you angry, answered Antonio courteously, my pious friend? May not religion and knowledge shake hands in amity, as they do in this admirable teacher? in him whom the whole world admires, whom princes esteem and cherish, whom our holy father himself means to raise to a spiritual dignity. Why are you incenst against him who comes forward to meet you and all mankind with his love? Did you know how his doctrine comforts me, how he lifts up my soul and guides it heavenward, how in his mouth piety and religion find the words and images of inspiration, which bear his scholars as with the wings of the spirit into the regions above the earth, you would not think and speak thus harshly of him. Learn to know him more nearly; seek his intercourse; and you will soon be moved by penitence and love to abjure your dislike and your over-hasty judgement against him.

Love him! cried the priest: no, never! Keep yourself safe, young man, from his clutches and those of his servant with hell's stamp upon him, who cannot gull any one with the same fair seeming as his master.

True, rejoined Antonio, little Beresynth is a queer figure, and a hideous one too. I wonder myself that our noble Pietro can endure to have him perpetually at his side, wherever he is and whatever he is doing. But ought a hump or any other such ugly mark to render us cruel toward a poor wretch whom nature has neglected?

Fine words! grand phrases! exclaimed the priest impatiently: such are the very sentiments to make conjurors and quacks thrive apace. See, there comes the abomination! I cannot even bear to look upon him, much less to have any dealings with him. A creature whom the Lord has markt in this wise, is knowable enough; and let everybody in whom all human feeling is not yet quencht, get out of his way.

Beresynth, who had caught the last words, came up to them with divers ungainly jumps.

My very reverend sir, he exclaimed, do you then yourself happen to be of such mightily exquisite beauty, that you have a right to judge thus intolerantly? My master from his youth up has been a majestic and stately man; and yet he thinks far otherwise of me and my fellows. What! you little stinted, stunted, stumpy, bile-faced animal, whose nose is for ever running crimson with spite! You with the crooked corners of your seesaw mouth, with the broken ridges and ditches in your shrivelled half-inch forehead, you would make an outcry about my ugliness! Why the bit of a dwarf can hardly peer out of its pulpit when it is hubbubbing there, and is so gossamer-shankt it durst not walk across the great square if the wind chance to be blowing strong; the congregation are hard put to find him out when he is grimacing and gesticulating before the altar, and need all their christian faith and hope to believe him actually corporeally present; and such a hop-o'-my-thumb, such a ghostly ne'er-to-be-seen, would take the tone of a Goliah here. With thy leave, thou most invisible man of godliness, one might cut out of my nose alone as stout a pillar of the faith as thou art; and I won't reckon in the brace of humps which my backbone and breastbone have built up in rivalry of each other.

The priest Theodore had already left them in anger before the end of this speech; and the melancholy Antonio chid the little dwarf for his wantonness. But the latter cried:

Now pray don't you also begin to preach. Once for all I will bear that from no one else than my master; for he came into the world on special purpose to teach morality and philosophy and their kin. But this weathercock of a priest here, that is driven round with such a creaking merely by his envy and malice, because he fancies that my noble master is lowering both his authority and his purse, he shall not unkennel his tongue from his toothless jaws, where I can but thrust in my unwasht mouth. And from a young student too I will brook no contradiction; for I used to have my beard shaved, while your father was still carried about in his chrisom-cloth; I was earning stripes at school and getting the fool's cap hung round my ears, when they put your worshipful grandfather into his first pair of breeches: so shew respect where it is due, and never forget whom you have before you.

Don't be angry, little man, said Antonio: I meant it well with thee.

Mean it just as you please, returned the other. My master is to be a prelate, do you know that yet? and lord rector of the university. And he has received a new gold chain as a token of royal favour from Paris. And you must come to him; for he is going away from Padua, and wants to speak to you once more before he sets off. And don't crawl about so among the parsons, if you mean to be a philosopher.

Hopping and jumping to and fro from side to side he ran down the street again; and Antonio said to Alfonso, who now came up to him, and who for some time past had been forming a friendship with him:

I never know, when talking to that little abortion, whether it means its words in earnest or only in jest. He seems always to be scoffing at himself and at everything else in the world.

This, answered Alfonso, is a kind of necessary amends to him, a way of comforting himself for his deformity: by his sneers he to his own fancy makes all other creatures just like himself. But have you heard of the new honours that have been bestowed on our illustrious teacher and master?

The world, replied Antonio, acknowledges his high worth; and now that even our holy father, the pope, is making him a prelate, this will at length silence the envious priests and monks who are for ever trying to charge the virtuous and pious man with heresy.

They parted; and Antonio hurried home, to take leave of his teacher for some days. The little dwarf Beresynth was awaiting him in the doorway with a friendly grin.

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